Spotlight: Julie Rowell (OR '19)February 18, 2020
Julie Rowell (OR ’19) loves working with students on the cusp of adulthood: “There are so many amazing directions their lives can go, and I enjoy taking that journey with them.” She won Oregon’s 2019-20 Milken Educator Award at Gresham High School (GHS) on December 10, 2019.
Milken Family Foundation: You teach both English language learners and AVID [Advancement Via Individual Determination]. How do these programs overlap?
Julie Rowell (OR ’19): They both host students who have often had a variety of life experiences, including many bilingual students. Often, but not always, they are the first generation in their families to go to college.
MFF: How does your school help students new to the U.S. acclimate?
Julie: As the case manager for the ELL Program, I am involved in testing, identification and placement of students who have recently arrived in the U.S. I teach students who have been in the country for two to three years. My four colleagues each teach one of the courses in our Newcomer Program.
I coordinate and lead professional learning opportunities for English Language Development (ELD) teachers in the secondary schools across our district. My role of instructional coach is important because I facilitate conversations with teachers on how to improve their practice, share strategies and collaborate. I work with an amazing team of around 10 ELD teachers who are all committed to our work and our students. It is such a rewarding position, and I feel so fortunate to work with them.
MFF: How did you end up in the classroom?
Julie: I was working as a secretary in a newcomer center in Portland Public Schools, where families new to the United States came to register students and have their language skills assessed. I wanted to continue to work with those students and families in a more comprehensive way. Also, I had some pretty amazing teachers who inspired me to go into education.
MFF: How did your first year of teaching go?
Julie: I remember it as exciting. I felt like a little kid playing school. It was hard work and I spent many, many hours planning lessons that were likely only mediocre, but I loved teaching and my students were great. I had an extremely helpful instructional coach and I owe her a lot.
I will admit, though, that I looked forward to winter and spring break. I remember telling a more experienced teacher that I stayed up planning until two in the morning on a Saturday night. He looked at me like I was crazy. In retrospect, I agree.
MFF: What do you like about high school students?
Julie: I love working with them because they’re on the cusp of entering adulthood. There are so many amazing directions their lives can go, and I enjoy taking that journey with them. Also, they’re a lot of fun, funny, and so smart and curious.
MFF: Who are your role models?
Julie: I have had so many mentors since I became a teacher. I consider many of my current colleagues as leaders and they have influenced my practice tremendously.
My two most influential mentors since I’ve joined my district have been Danelle Heikkila and Karina Bruzzese. They are my former and current ELL directors, respectively. I have learned so much from them about teaching, leading, systems and programs, and life in general.
Two teachers who had an impact on me as a student are Mrs. Bixler, my high school science teacher, and Ms. Youngman, my high school Spanish teacher. They both held high expectations, used effective strategies (I know this now as an adult) and built strong relationships. They put so much time and energy into their teaching—again, I realize this now that I’m an adult. They both were moms and worked full-time, and they were able to juggle all those balls.
MFF: How did you feel at your Milken Educator Award notification?
Julie: Complete shock and excitement. I had absolutely no idea. Honestly, I felt like I was in a dream.
MFF: How have your students reacted to your Milken Award?
Julie: I think that they’re proud, and honestly I believe it has given me more credibility with my newer students. So many of my students were so excited. I got multiple messages from former students who are very supportive and found the Award affirming for their former teacher. Even kids in the halls at GHS seem to feel a new kind of connection to me. I love that!
MFF: How do you define “success” for your students?
Julie: Success is when they meet the goals they have set for themselves.
MFF: What do you hope your students remember from their time with you?
Julie: I really hope that my students walk away from class with academic confidence, an ability to think critically and an understanding that they really can do anything they put their minds to. I think kids often don’t realize they’re in such a remarkable and pivotal place in their lives. You want to learn how to fly an airplane, fly an airplane. You want to travel to an unknown place, travel. You want to study at the university level, you can!
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